Topics, by Aristotle

Book VII

1

WHETHER two things are ‘the same’ or ‘different’, in the most literal of the meanings ascribed to ‘sameness’ (and we said’ that ‘the same’ applies in the most literal sense to what is numerically one), may be examined in the light of their inflexions and coordinates and opposites. For if justice be the same as courage, then too the just man is the same as the brave man, and ‘justly’ is the same as ‘bravely’. Likewise, too, in the case of their opposites: for if two things be the same, their opposites also will be the same, in any of the recognized forms of opposition. For it is the same thing to take the opposite of the one or that of the other, seeing that they are the same. Again it may be examined in the light of those things which tend to produce or to destroy the things in question of their formation and destruction, and in general of any thing that is related in like manner to each. For where things are absolutely the same, their formations and destructions also are the same, and so are the things that tend to produce or to destroy them. Look and see also, in a case where one of two things is said to be something or other in a superlative degree, if the other of these alleged identical things can also be described by a superlative in the same respect. Thus Xenocrates argues that the happy life and the good life are the same, seeing that of all forms of life the good life is the most desirable and so also is the happy life: for ‘the most desirable’ and the greatest’ apply but to one thing.’ Likewise also in other cases of the kind. Each, however, of the two things termed ‘greatest’ or most desirable’ must be numerically one: otherwise no proof will have been given that they are the same; for it does not follow because Peloponnesians and Spartans are the bravest of the Greeks, that Peloponnesians are the same as Spartans, seeing that ‘Peloponnesian’ is not any one person nor yet ‘Spartan’; it only follows that the one must be included under the other as ‘Spartans’ are under ‘Peloponnesians’: for otherwise, if the one class be not included under the other, each will be better than the other. For then the Peloponnesians are bound to be better than the Spartans, seeing that the one class is not included under the other; for they are better than anybody else. Likewise also the Spartans must perforce be better than the Peloponnesians; for they too are better than anybody else; each then is better than the other! Clearly therefore what is styled ‘best’ and ‘greatest’ must be a single thing, if it is to be proved to be ‘the same’ as another. This also is why Xenocrates fails to prove his case: for the happy life is not numerically single, nor yet the good life, so that it does not follow that, because they are both the most desirable, they are therefore the same, but only that the one falls under the other.

Again, look and see if, supposing the one to be the same as something, the other also is the same as it: for if they be not both the same as the same thing, clearly neither are they the same as one another.

Moreover, examine them in the light of their accidents or of the things of which they are accidents: for any accident belonging to the one must belong also to the other, and if the one belong to anything as an accident, so must the other also. If in any of these respects there is a discrepancy, clearly they are not the same.

See further whether, instead of both being found in one class of predicates, the one signifies a quality and the other a quantity or relation. Again, see if the genus of each be not the same, the one being ‘good’ and the other evil’, or the one being ‘virtue’ and the other ‘knowledge’: or see if, though the genus is the same, the differentiae predicted of either be not the same, the one (e.g.) being distinguished as a ‘speculative’ science, the other as a ‘practical’ science. Likewise also in other cases.

Moreover, from the point of view of ‘degrees’, see if the one admits an increase of degree but not the other, or if though both admit it, they do not admit it at the same time; just as it is not the case that a man desires intercourse more intensely, the more intensely he is in love, so that love and the desire for intercourse are not the same.

Moreover, examine them by means of an addition, and see whether the addition of each to the same thing fails to make the same whole; or if the subtraction of the same thing from each leaves a different remainder. Suppose (e.g.) that he has declared ‘double a half’ to be the same as ‘a multiple of a half’: then, subtracting the words ‘a half’ from each, the remainders ought to have signified the same thing: but they do not; for ‘double’ and ‘a multiple of’ do not signify the same thing.

Inquire also not only if some impossible consequence results directly from the statement made, that A and B are the same, but also whether it is possible for a supposition to bring it about; as happens to those who assert that ‘empty’ is the same as ‘full of air’: for clearly if the air be exhausted, the vessel will not be less but more empty, though it will no longer be full of air. So that by a supposition, which may be true or may be false (it makes no difference which), the one character is annulled and not the other, showing that they are not the same.

Speaking generally, one ought to be on the look-out for any discrepancy anywhere in any sort of predicate of each term, and in the things of which they are predicated. For all that is predicated of the one should be predicated also of the other, and of whatever the one is a predicate, the other should be a predicate of it as well.

Moreover, as ‘sameness’ is a term used in many senses, see whether things that are the same in one way are the same also in a different way. For there is either no necessity or even no possibility that things that are the same specifically or generically should be numerically the same, and it is with the question whether they are or are not the same in that sense that we are concerned.

Moreover, see whether the one can exist without the other; for, if so, they could not be the same.

2

Such is the number of the commonplace rules that relate to ‘sameness’. It is clear from what has been said that all the destructive commonplaces relating to sameness are useful also in questions of definition, as was said before:’ for if what is signified by the term and by the expression be not the same, clearly the expression rendered could not be a definition. None of the constructive commonplaces, on the other hand, helps in the matter of definition; for it is not enough to show the sameness of content between the expression and the term, in order to establish that the former is a definition, but a definition must have also all the other characters already announced.

3

This then is the way, and these the arguments, whereby the attempt to demolish a definition should always be made. If, on the other hand, we desire to establish one, the first thing to observe is that few if any who engage in discussion arrive at a definition by reasoning: they always assume something of the kind as their starting points-both in geometry and in arithmetic and the other studies of that kind. In the second place, to say accurately what a definition is, and how it should be given, belongs to another inquiry. At present it concerns us only so far as is required for our present purpose, and accordingly we need only make the bare statement that to reason to a thing’s definition and essence is quite possible. For if a definition is an expression signifying the essence of the thing and the predicates contained therein ought also to be the only ones which are predicated of the thing in the category of essence; and genera and differentiae are so predicated in that category: it is obvious that if one were to get an admission that so and so are the only attributes predicated in that category, the expression containing so and so would of necessity be a definition; for it is impossible that anything else should be a definition, seeing that there is not anything else predicated of the thing in the category of essence.

That a definition may thus be reached by a process of reasoning is obvious. The means whereby it should be established have been more precisely defined elsewhere, but for the purposes of the inquiry now before us the same commonplace rules serve. For we have to examine into the contraries and other opposites of the thing, surveying the expressions used both as wholes and in detail: for if the opposite definition defines that opposite term, the definition given must of necessity be that of the term before us. Seeing, however, that contraries may be conjoined in more than one way, we have to select from those contraries the one whose contrary definition seems most obvious. The expressions, then, have to be examined each as a whole in the way we have said, and also in detail as follows. First of all, see that the genus rendered is correctly rendered; for if the contrary thing be found in the contrary genus to that stated in the definition, and the thing before you is not in that same genus, then it would clearly be in the contrary genus: for contraries must of necessity be either in the same genus or in contrary genera. The differentiae, too, that are predicated of contraries we expect to be contrary, e.g. those of white and black, for the one tends to pierce the vision, while the other tends to compress it. So that if contrary differentiae to those in the definition are predicated of the contrary term, then those rendered in the definition would be predicated of the term before us. Seeing, then, that both the genus and the differentiae have been rightly rendered, clearly the expression given must be the right definition. It might be replied that there is no necessity why contrary differentiae should be predicated of contraries, unless the contraries be found within the same genus: of things whose genera are themselves contraries it may very well be that the same differentia is used of both, e.g. of justice and injustice; for the one is a virtue and the other a vice of the soul: ‘of the soul’, therefore, is the differentia in both cases, seeing that the body as well has its virtue and vice. But this much at least is true, that the differentiae of contraries are either contrary or else the same. If, then, the contrary differentia to that given be predicated of the contrary term and not of the one in hand, clearly the differentia stated must be predicated of the latter. Speaking generally, seeing that the definition consists of genus and differentiae, if the definition of the contrary term be apparent, the definition of the term before you will be apparent also: for since its contrary is found either in the same genus or in the contrary genus, and likewise also the differentiae predicated of opposites are either contrary to, or the same as, each other, clearly of the term before you there will be predicated either the same genus as of its contrary, while, of its differentiae, either all are contrary to those of its contrary, or at least some of them are so while the rest remain the same; or, vice versa, the differentiae will be the same and the genera contrary; or both genera and differentiae will be contrary. And that is all; for that both should be the same is not possible; else contraries will have the same definition.

Moreover, look at it from the point of view of its inflexions and coordinates. For genera and definitions are bound to correspond in either case. Thus if forgetfulness be the loss of knowledge, to forget is to lose knowledge, and to have forgotten is to have lost knowledge. If, then, any one whatever of these is agreed to, the others must of necessity be agreed to as well. Likewise, also, if destruction is the decomposition of the thing’s essence, then to be destroyed is to have its essence decomposed, and ‘destructively’ means ‘in such a way as to decompose its essence’; if again ‘destructive’ means ‘apt to decompose something’s essence’, then also ‘destruction’ means ‘the decomposition of its essence’. Likewise also with the rest: an admission of any one of them whatever, and all the rest are admitted too.

Moreover, look at it from the point of view of things that stand in relations that are like each other. For if ‘healthy’ means ‘productive of health’, ‘vigorous’ too will mean ‘productive of vigour’, and ‘useful’ will mean ‘productive of good.’ For each of these things is related in like manner to its own peculiar end, so that if one of them is defined as ‘productive of’ that end, this will also be the definition of each of the rest as well.

Moreover, look at it from the point of and like degrees, in all the ways in which it is possible to establish a result by comparing two and two together. Thus if A defines a better than B defines and B is a definition of so too is A of a. Further, if A’s claim to define a is like B’s to define B, and B defines B, then A too defines a. This examination from the point of view of greater degrees is of no use when a single definition is compared with two things, or two definitions with one thing; for there cannot possibly be one definition of two things or two of the same thing.

4

The most handy of all the commonplace arguments are those just mentioned and those from co-ordinates and inflexions, and these therefore are those which it is most important to master and to have ready to hand: for they are the most useful on the greatest number of occasions. Of the rest, too, the most important are those of most general application: for these are the most effective, e.g. that you should examine the individual cases, and then look to see in the case of their various species whether the definition applies. For the species is synonymous with its individuals. This sort of inquiry is of service against those who assume the existence of Ideas, as has been said before.’ Moreover see if a man has used a term metaphorically, or predicated it of itself as though it were something different. So too if any other of the commonplace rules is of general application and effective, it should be employed.

5

That it is more difficult to establish than to overthrow a definition, is obvious from considerations presently to be urged. For to see for oneself, and to secure from those whom one is questioning, an admission of premisses of this sort is no simple matter, e.g. that of the elements of the definition rendered the one is genus and the other differentia, and that only the genus and differentiae are predicated in the category of essence. Yet without these premisses it is impossible to reason to a definition; for if any other things as well are predicated of the thing in the category of essence, there is no telling whether the formula stated or some other one is its definition, for a definition is an expression indicating the essence of a thing. The point is clear also from the following: It is easier to draw one conclusion than many. Now in demolishing a definition it is sufficient to argue against one point only (for if we have overthrown any single point whatsoever, we shall have demolished the definition); whereas in establishing a definition, one is bound to bring people to the view that everything contained in the definition is attributable. Moreover, in establishing a case, the reasoning brought forward must be universal: for the definition put forward must be predicated of everything of which the term is predicated, and must moreover be convertible, if the definition rendered is to be peculiar to the subject. In overthrowing a view, on the other hand, there is no longer any necessity to show one’s point universally: for it is enough to show that the formula is untrue of any one of the things embraced under the term.

Further, even supposing it should be necessary to overthrow something by a universal proposition, not even so is there any need to prove the converse of the proposition in the process of overthrowing the definition. For merely to show that the definition fails to be predicated of every one of the things of which the term is predicated, is enough to overthrow it universally: and there is no need to prove the converse of this in order to show that the term is predicated of things of which the expression is not predicated. Moreover, even if it applies to everything embraced under the term, but not to it alone, the definition is thereby demolished.

The case stands likewise in regard to the property and genus of a term also. For in both cases it is easier to overthrow than to establish. As regards the property this is clear from what has been said: for as a rule the property is rendered in a complex phrase, so that to overthrow it, it is only necessary to demolish one of the terms used, whereas to establish it is necessary to reason to them all. Then, too, nearly all the other rules that apply to the definition will apply also to the property of a thing. For in establishing a property one has to show that it is true of everything included under the term in question, whereas to overthrow one it is enough to show in a single case only that it fails to belong: further, even if it belongs to everything falling under the term, but not to that only, it is overthrown in this case as well, as was explained in the case of the definition. In regard to the genus, it is clear that you are bound to establish it in one way only, viz. by showing that it belongs in every case, while of overthrowing it there are two ways: for if it has been shown that it belongs either never or not in a certain case, the original statement has been demolished. Moreover, in establishing a genus it is not enough to show that it belongs, but also that it belongs as genus has to be shown; whereas in overthrowing it, it is enough to show its failure to belong either in some particular case or in every case. It appears, in fact, as though, just as in other things to destroy is easier than to create, so in these matters too to overthrow is easier than to establish.

In the case of an accidental attribute the universal proposition is easier to overthrow than to establish; for to establish it, one has to show that it belongs in every case, whereas to overthrow it, it is enough to show that it does not belong in one single case. The particular proposition is, on the contrary, easier to establish than to overthrow: for to establish it, it is enough to show that it belongs in a particular instance, whereas to overthrow it, it has to be shown that it never belongs at all.

It is clear also that the easiest thing of all is to overthrow a definition. For on account of the number of statements involved we are presented in the definition with the greatest number of points for attack, and the more plentiful the material, the quicker an argument comes: for there is more likelihood of a mistake occurring in a large than in a small number of things. Moreover, the other rules too may be used as means for attacking a definition: for if either the formula be not peculiar, or the genus rendered be the wrong one, or something included in the formula fail to belong, the definition is thereby demolished. On the other hand, against the others we cannot bring all of the arguments drawn from definitions, nor yet of the rest: for only those relating to accidental attributes apply generally to all the aforesaid kinds of attribute. For while each of the aforesaid kinds of attribute must belong to the thing in question, yet the genus may very well not belong as a property without as yet being thereby demolished. Likewise also the property need not belong as a genus, nor the accident as a genus or property, so long as they do belong. So that it is impossible to use one set as a basis of attack upon the other except in the case of definition. Clearly, then, it is the easiest of all things to demolish a definition, while to establish one is the hardest. For there one both has to establish all those other points by reasoning (i.e. that the attributes stated belong, and that the genus rendered is the true genus, and that the formula is peculiar to the term), and moreover, besides this, that the formula indicates the essence of the thing; and this has to be done correctly.

Of the rest, the property is most nearly of this kind: for it is easier to demolish, because as a rule it contains several terms; while it is the hardest to establish, both because of the number of things that people must be brought to accept, and, besides this, because it belongs to its subject alone and is predicated convertibly with its subject.

The easiest thing of all to establish is an accidental predicate: for in other cases one has to show not only that the predicate belongs, but also that it belongs in such and such a particular way: whereas in the case of the accident it is enough to show merely that it belongs. On the other hand, an accidental predicate is the hardest thing to overthrow, because it affords the least material: for in stating accident a man does not add how the predicate belongs; and accordingly, while in other cases it is possible to demolish what is said in two ways, by showing either that the predicate does not belong, or that it does not belong in the particular way stated, in the case of an accidental predicate the only way to demolish it is to show that it does not belong at all.

The commonplace arguments through which we shall be well supplied with lines of argument with regard to our several problems have now been enumerated at about sufficient length.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59